It's Expected We're Gone

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John Mueller—who argued against the Iraq War in the pages of Reason—argues in the American Conservative that an Iraq pullout is the best possible solution to the crisis in that country. He tackles the thornier arguments pretty much head-on.

America's exit from Iraq will exhilarate international terrorists because victory over the U.S. will seem even greater to them than victory over the Soviets in Afghanistan. Osama bin Laden's theory that Americans can be defeated, or at least productively inconvenienced, by inflicting comparatively small but continuously draining casualties on them will achieve apparent confirmation.

But that one is already lost: almost any exit from Iraq will have this effect. People like bin Laden believe that America in-vaded Iraq as part of its plan to control the Middle East's oil and dominate the world —a perspective that polls suggest is enormously popular in Muslim countries as well as in such non-Muslim ones as Germany and France. The U.S. does not intend to do that—at least not in the direct sense bin Laden and others allege —nor does it seek to destroy Islam, as many others around the world bitterly assert. Such people will see almost any kind of American withdrawal as a victory for the terrorist insurgents, to whom they will give primary credit for forcing America to leave without accomplishing what they mistakenly take to be its key objectives.

Moreover, jihadists may be inclined to draw a special lesson by comparing the results of 9/11 with those of the Iraq War: it is much more productive to hit the "far enemy" when it comes near than to hit it in its homeland. That is, if their goal is to get the U.S. out of the Middle East, it is better for jihadists to cause it damage in places where its interests are limited rather than in places where its interests are vital. Thus, even if the result of the Iraq War exhilarates some terrorists, it would not necessarily whet their appetites for another 9/11.

Mueller's Reason archive is here; Nick Gillespie interview him on the future of terrorism here.

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  1. People like bin Laden believe that America invaded Iraq as part of its plan to control the Middle East’s oil and dominate the world -a perspective that polls suggest is enormously popular in Muslim countries as well as in such non-Muslim ones as Germany and France. The U.S. does not intend to do that-at least not in the direct sense bin Laden and others allege…

    I don’t know, I think it’s pretty obvious that controlling the oil is the key to our entire Middle East policy. Otherwise, why bother?

    As for controlling the world, it’s not hard to understand how our stated goal of “spreading Democracy” (not to mention the implied goal of spreading capitalism) might sound that way to people.

  2. Minutemen > ususal Ramones/Sex Pistols references.

  3. Thanks, mike. I was going to have scroll through my iPod until something rang a bell. Knew it was a song, but was drawing a blank.
    You are correct. Minutemen trump nearly everything.

  4. In general, I think Mueller makes sense here, but I think he overanalyzes it and weakens his argument in an attempt to answer every fallacy thrown forward by the neocons.

    It’s actually quite simple: The political status of Iraq is not worth a single American life.

    He attempts to present scenarios in which post-occupation Iraq does not become a clusterfuck. But they aren’t convincing to me. The biggest likelihood is that Iraqis spend the next 10-20 years fighting over ancient sectarian and tribal grievances. Other countries in the region will be involved in different ways and varying amounts over that time. But even in this event, it’s just plain none of our business. Mueller is dead right on one point–the oil will keep flowing because that’s the only source of income in that region.

  5. But even in this event, it’s just plain none of our business.

    It’s absolutely our business.

  6. If we get out, and the Sunnis and Shi’ites keep slaughtering eachother, it puts Al Qaeda in an untenable situation.

    1) They have to advocate the killing of other Muslims, which, while it might fly from Lebanon to Pakistan, just won’t fly in most of the Muslim world.
    2) This gets them on the wrong side of Iran, which is a big regional power and can cause them a lot of grief. (Sure, they could side with Iran, but then they’d lose the more-numerous Saudis, the Taliban, etc).
    3) Or, they close up shop in the central Middle East, and lose those recruiting grounds.

    A Sunni/Shi’ite clash would utterly f*** al-Qaeda’s efforts to direct hatred against us.

  7. Pulling U.S. troop out of Iraq would…

    1. Keep Iran busy
    2. Keep al-Qaeda busy

    Unfortunately, Cheney is driving the bus on this and he’s as misguided an idealogue who ever lived.

    Also, as an issue, Iraq still enables Conservatives and the Bush administration to keep the Democrats on the defensive.

    So I predict the Bush administration will do everything they can to perpetuate this lack of accomplishment.

  8. It’s absolutely our business.

    Sez you.

  9. Al-Qaeda would certainly see it as a huge success in the same vein as driving the Soviet Union. Unfortunately, if we keep pouring blood and treasure into Iraq, the war actually will destroy the US as a world power in the same vein as the Afghan War destroyed the Soviet Union.

    We can hand them a propaganda victory now or a real victory later. This is what some people call the “Stalingrad Choice.”

  10. It’s foolish to think that fighting them there makes them less interested or available to attack us here.

    There will always be AQ elements actively planning US attacks as long as AQ exists. There numbers have grown. As long as we stay the current course, they will have plenty of bodies to operate wherever and whenever they can. The solution to defeating AQ involves the ability to isolate, and reduce their cause and attraction, therefore reducing their numbers.

    They are like roaches, you can’t always defeat them but you can reduce their numbers to a level that does not often interfere with your daily buisness. But if your activity is increasing their numbers, you’re losing the battle.

    With respects to what the terrorists will say, who cares? They have always announced that our “withdraw” is a defeat every time we have pulled out of a Mid-East Operation. If you listen to them we lost the first Gulf War. Sure, we will look bad when we pull out, as a matter of fact, not as a matter of a terrorist’s assessment. Hey, we should have planned better and not committed all those well known errors like underestimating your enemy. I thought that was war 101.

    The Britsh have acknowledged they can’t get what they/we want, and it’s time to hand it over to the Iraqis for better or worse. At some point we will too.

    What is sad for us is that the outcome is controlled by sectarian Iraqis not the US military. No matter what we do, they will determine what will be.

    I find it extremely sad that we put ourselves in a position that gambled American clout on Mid-East sectarianism.

  11. But that one is already lost: almost any exit from Iraq will have this effect.

    I can think of a lot of scenarios where our withdrawal would not have this effect.

    If what he meant was “any exit under fire from Iraq will have this effect”, then he is right.

    However, I see no reason why a withdrawal from a pacified and functional Iraq would have this effect.

  12. However, I see no reason why a withdrawal from a pacified and functional Iraq would have this effect.

    Right. And when a pacified and functional Iraq exists, we’ll have all those flying pigs to assist the withdrawal with the air transport.

  13. Such people will see almost any kind of American withdrawal as a victory for the terrorist insurgents, to whom they will give primary credit for forcing America to leave without accomplishing what they mistakenly take to be its key objectives.

    This leaves a question unanswered. What the fuck were our key objectives if not knocking off Saddam and replacing him with a friendly, secure regime (democratic would be nice but doesn’t seem to be a dealbreaker)?

  14. In Afghanistan, the “Afghan Arabs” didn’t have a far more powerful force than themselves just waiting for the Soviets to leave so they could turn their guns on the foreign jihadists.

    If we leave Iraq, the Iranian-backed Shiite militias take over, and all of the effor they’re putting into fighting us goes into destroying the Al Qaedists who have spent the last three years waging an anti-Shiite terror campaign. The Iraqi nationalist (Sunni) insurgency either teams up with the Shiites to fight the foreigners (as they did during the Falluja battle), or they fight alongside the jihadists and lose.

  15. What really sucks is that we spend a fucking gazillion dollars a year on the military, yet we can only spare 120 or so thousand troops for Iraq. You’d think for the kind of money we spend, we could offer $100,000 signing bonuses to new recruits for signing up for 4-6 years, and still pay them decently while they serve (in Iraq). What? That sounds like hiring mercenaries?

    Another incredibly stupid thing: How hard would it be to institute mandatory Arab-language training for the troops over there. They should all be fluent by now! (I think that would help quite a bit, especially in the areas of mutual trust and intelligence.)

    Oh, wait… This is a thread about pulling out, not winning. Never mind…

  16. Too real Bill.

    Back when there was talk of shoring up Social Security I remember thinking, $2,000,000,000,000 was a hugh sum of money. Turns out to be 4 or 5 years of the Defense budget.

  17. The Real Bill,

    The problem isn’t that salaries are too low – although they are, probably – as much as the share of the budget spent outfitting conventional ground fordes is too small.

    Do year realize the defense budget spends more each year on the deployment of the non-functional Star Wars system than on the Marine Corps? That’s insane.

  18. The US Military is about as bloated, wasteful and disfunctional as any government institution you can name, yet for the past 20 years it seems to have avoided the withering libertarian scorn it deserves. Back in good old WWII days neocons love to reminisce about pretty much everyone disliked institutional aspects of the Army and mocked it constantly. I suppose we’ve lost our taste for freedom in the intervening time, and/or most people are scared they’ll be associated with the far left if they do anything but venerate our “fine institution.” The reality is the Iraq fiasco has demonstrated just how ill-prepared our military is for the 21st century, and what a poor return we taxpayers are getting on the massive investment we’re making. This should be prompting a serious effort to reform the military top to bottom, but we certainly won’t get it from the jingoists on the right or the pacifists on the left.

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